You hear all the time about what a genius Warren Buffett is.
In his just-released shareholder letter, he highlights 4 recent blunders, each of which says something bigger about the economy.
First, he bet on natural gas:
A few years back, I spent about $2 billion buying several bond issues of Energy Future Holdings, an electric utility operation serving portions of Texas. That was a mistake – a big mistake. In large measure, the company’s prospects were tied to the price of natural gas, which tanked shortly after our purchase and remains depressed.
Though we have annually received interest payments of about $102 million since our
purchase, the company’s ability to pay will soon be exhausted unless gas prices rise substantially. We wrote down our investment by $1 billion in 2010 and by an additional $390 million last year. At yearend, we carried the bonds at their market value of $878 million. If gas prices remain at present levels, we will likely face a further loss, perhaps in an amount that will virtually wipe out our current carrying value.
He prematurely called the housing recovery:
Last year, I told you that “a housing recovery will probably begin within a year or so.” I was dead wrong. We have five businesses whose results are significantly influenced by housing activity. The connection is direct at Clayton Homes, which is the largest producer of homes in the country, accounting for about 7% of those constructed during 2011.
Additionally, Acme Brick, Shaw (carpet), Johns Manville (insulation) and MiTek (building products, primarily connector plates used in roofing) are all materially affected by construction activity. In aggregate, our five housing-related companies had pre-tax profits of $513 million in 2011. That’s similar to 2010 but down from $1.8 billion in 2006.
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